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Concept Car of the Week: Matra Laser (1971)

Fri, 12 Apr 2013

Founded in 1937, French company Matra began its activities by manufacturing military equipment such as aeronautics and weaponry. In the mid ‘60s, under Jean-Luc Lagardere's ambitious direction, the company bought Automobiles Rene Bonnet to expand its portfolio with street and racing cars.

The first model solely developed by Matra was the bonkers, but brilliant, 1967 M530, which took its name from the company's surface-to-air missile the R530. Although the chassis rusted faster than the engine accelerated, it was praised for its neutral handling.

Giovanni Michelotti believed he could "transform the camel into a horse" and tackled the task of creating an entirely new body using the underpinnings of the Matra. The Turin-born designer began his career working for Carrozzeria Vignale, then opened his own studio in 1949 and worked on such icons as the Triumph Spitfire, Maserati A6GCs/53 and the BMW Neue Class. Vignale first had a go at redesigning the M530 in 1968 and achieved a very pretty car, making Michelotti's challenge even harder.

Unveiled three years later at the Geneva motor show, the result might not be as clean and elegant, but it is certainly strong and futuristic. It's almost a summary of late ‘60s and early ‘70s design trends, back in the days when 13-inch wheels were considered badass.

The rear-engined layout is now clearly visible thanks to the very low, razor-sharp hood and the swooping roofline. The polygonal construction of the cabin, with gullwing doors and the large glazed area, echoes the Lamborghini Marzal by Gandini, however the doors remain above the belt line. The chunky doorsills remain, improving rigidity. They also channel cool air towards rear-mounted 1,700cc Ford V4 engine. The rear is closer to the Stratos Zero concept with a truncated matte black panel, topped by a full-width wraparound tail lamp. A few silver trim pieces on the fenders and on the C-pillar add a little sci-fi touch to the concept.

A rather simplistic dashboard with dropping edges repeats the graphic of the tail lamp while the quartic steering wheel and a pair of awesome seats finish the interior.

The unique prototype was originally painted in a mustardy yellow, but a less conspicuous silver was applied before its second appearance at the 1972 Montreal Auto Show. The Laser was in a museum until 1999 when it seemingly disappeared for 10 years until reappearing at the 2nd Tokyo Concours d'Elegance, posing alongside priceless Maseratis and Lamborghinis. Often overlooked because of its humble background, the beloved little Matra is slowly becoming a design classic.

Designer Giovanni Michelotti
Height 1,080 mm
Wheelbase 2,560mm
Engine 1,700 cc V4
Base Matra M530

Your author, Flavien Dachet, is a UK-based, French-born car designer. You may know him as the purveyor of KarzNshit, a photo blog that if isn't already in your bookmarks, certainly should be.

By Flavien Dachet